Way back in 1998 when Google forayed into web search from Stanford backyard, it was established that average length of a search query was just 1.2 words. Year-over-year, the trend in our search behavior as measured by search query length, has become more sophisticated & specific (the average search query length was 2.5 words in 2004 & 3.3 words in 2006).
Earlier this year Hitwise reported that search queries on all the major search engines are starting to get longer. Comparing the recent Hitwise data with OneStat’s 2004 findings, the following can be observed :
- No one performed 8 word searches in 2004 & over the years the 2-3 words peak is plateauing fast. Infact in last year one & two word queries have become slightly less popular (3% & 5% decline respectively).
- In 2004 & 2005, more than 50% of the searches had only 1 or 2 words whereas now more than 50% of searches contain 3 or more words.
- Bottom of the curve, over the years 5-8 words grows healthy. Infact in last one year 3 word queries remain flat. Longer search queries (5+ words) have increased by 10%.
What could those one word query mean ? Going by Compete a significant chunk of that is ‘Navigational’. Will you believe people are still searching for hotmail.com, which no longer exists.
Comscore co-founder Gian Fulgoni also points at this trend:
Academic studies on the paper “Query Length in Interactive Information Retrieval” show user satisfaction increases as search query length grows.
Longer queries irrespective of query elicitation mode are significantly associated with increased searcher satisfaction with search results.
Guess apart – I would really like to see the impact on search fulfillment or referrals with longer search words – like this one Compete reported almost 2 years back.
Are the searchers getting smarter or it’s the search engines getting smarter ? Feel free to let us know in the comments.